January 31, 1964 – May 2, 2013
I got the chance to view a sampling of the Big Four mega-show from Sofia, Bulgaria recently (part of the DVD of that show was being broadcast on Palladia, Verizon Fios’ live music channel).
There the legends of thrash metal were, before an increasingly energetic outdoor stadium crowd. From the bright dy-time sunlight of Anthrax’s opening slot, to the torrential downpour for Megadeth’s set, to the dark night illuminated by fireworks by the time Metallica took the stage. I poured down a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and enjoyed the spectacle.
But when Slayer came on, a somberness took hold of me that unfortunately now fills many metal fans when they watch a Slayer show. This special Big Four event was a moment of total triumph for all involved, and it will remain as that. But it will also be viewed in the future with the sentiment of, “Ah…when Jeff Hanneman was still alive.”
There he was indeed: his black Oakland Raiders jersey hanging around his body, his long, stringy blond hair waving, and his green and silver Heineken guitar (with the text changed to “Hanneman”), red star and all. My dad, passing through the room, saw what was on and remarked, “That’s the dead man, isn’t it?”
Sadly, it was. Since the loss of Cliff Burton in 1986, the Big Four of thrash metal had largely been spared further loss to any of their own–which is one of the reasons Jeff Hanneman’s death shocked so many.
I watched Slayer rip through two songs–“World Painted Blood” and “Raining Blood”–something new, and something old. From the frenetic energy with which they played, you would never have guessed Hanneman was playing while battling “necrotizing fascitis” (flesh-eating disease from a spider bite). This wasn’t the cause of his death (liver failure/cirrhosis the official release). And even if the fans knew, “somber” was not the word to describe them; they moshed with as much gleeful abandon as when I had seen Slayer at Nassau Coliseum–when Mr. Hanneman was still 100% healthy.
“I’d put him up there with Iommi, in a lot of ways,” Corey Taylor remarked on the power of Mr. Hanneman’s many riffs: “Raining Blood,” “Angel of Death,” “War Ensemble,” “Dead Skin Mask,” “Seasons In the Abyss.” The love and condolences poured in from Carcass, Lamb of God, Atheist and many others. At the funeral, a tearful Kerry King described how he and Jeff had first formed Slayer “by talking on the phone…because, you know, that’s what you did back then.”
Thankfully, the Westboro baptist church people didn’t show up to picket that event despite threatening to, preventing a repeat of what had happened at Ronnie James Dio’s funeral (http://www.headofmetal.com/2013/05/27/the-fallen-ronnie-james-dio/).
As Slayer finished “Raining Blood” with that total, all-out fury they became known for, the Bulgarians on DVD responded in kind. Then the camera view panned to a view from the stage, facing the loving audience head-on.
With Jeff’s back to the camera, he held out his arms in a Christ-like pose, as though trying to embrace this entire crowd into his heart. He was a silhouette in the fading sun that had taken on a new meaning. Surreal.
It couldn’t have been planned…but it does make you want to pause the screen, and wonder.
Dead at 49. RIP.
Written by Matt P